They're New York City tastemakers — literally.
Dozens of municipal employees on Tuesday tasted everything from turkey bacon to meatless turkey, served up by companies eager to supply their food to city agencies.
(Turkey bacon served at a taste-testing for city agencies on October 29, 2019. Jillian Jorgensen/NY1.)
"This is a great marriage of bringing in those industry experts who know what's on the market and then having them, pairing them up with the decision-makers here," said Mersida Ibric, Deputy Commissioner for Procurement at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.
Those decision-makers oversee food contracts in municipal hospitals, homeless shelters, schools, and jails.
The vendors ranging from corporate giants like Kellogg's to minority- and women-owned startups trying to reel in their first city contract, like G&K Sweet Foods.
"We have been New York City and New York State [Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprises] MWBE-certified for years. And we're trying to get some traction to get some larger orders from all the agencies," Kecia Palmer-Cousins said.
The company provided samples of its oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip cookies and sweet potato pie.
"It's my great-great grandmother's recipe, so I grew up on this recipe. It made me feel like I was really at home every time I came home from college," Joh'vonni Smith said.
The city government spends $250 million a year on contracts for food. $200 million of that is spent at the Department of Education, feeding students breakfast, lunch, and snacks.
City agencies can't just buy this food on the spot. Contracts must be put out to bid, and the city weighs factors like nutritional content, whether the food is produced locally, and, of course, price before signing up suppliers.
But there's another factor that makes what's going on here important.
"With children, they're not going to eat it if it doesn't taste good," Ibric said.
Several vendors are offering plant-based and vegan options as the city moves to "Meatless Mondays" for school lunches. Tables were stacked with everything from meat-free meatballs, to dairy-free macaroni and cheese made with cashews and butternut squash.
(Falafels served at a taste-testing for city agencies on October 29, 2019. Jillian Jorgensen/NY1.)
(Sandwiches served at a taste-testing for city agencies on October 29, 2019. Jillian Jorgensen/NY1.)
"It's a wonderful opportunity for everybody to taste the food and get a sense of what it is to have a vegan mac and cheese," said Scott Bennett, president of Golden Platter Foods.
Which is a long way from the mystery meat dreaded by generations of school children.
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